Imaging the Past with Educational Films

The Indiana University Libraries have recently posted 197 newly digitized films from their educational film collections. Among these are several films by and about African Americans, including 1985’s award-winning The Masters of Disaster, documenting the successes of a chess team of black sixth-graders; the 1976 musical drama In the Rapture, performed at the Church of the Living God, Temple #18, in Indianapolis; and a corresponding discussion film, The Rapture Family, led by IU’s Dr. Herman Hudson, Dean for Afro-American Affairs, and Dr. William H. Wiggins, Jr., Professor of Afro-American Studies. You can find these online here.

Satan as temptor in The Rature.

Having grown up with many an educational reel in the classroom, I tend to think of the genre as a repository for funny jeans, awkward haircuts, and forced dialogue.  And yet, while this may be an aspect of their appeal today, it’s only part of the story.

“Though educational films can now be viewed as amusing, cultural relics from another era, many of these films serve as important historical documents from the past,” said IU Libraries Film Archivist Rachael Stoeltje, in a press release from the IU Libraries.

Indeed, serious scholarship has increasingly turned its attention towards educational film, as evidenced with last year’s publication of Learning with the Lights Off: Educational Film in the United States and Useful Cinema.

While the genre is still often viewed as a separate entity that simply uses film but doesn’t traffic in the wider world of cinema, many independent filmmakers–especially documentarians–also produced work for the educational market.  This list includes two prominent black filmmakers represented in the collections of BFC/A: William Greaves and St. Clair Bourne. Greaves, who won four Emmys and produced National Entertainment Television’s (pre-cursor to PBS) Black Journal, has an extensive catalog of educational films here.  And here, check out the New York Times Lens series to explore the legacy of St. Clair Bourne and his Chamba productions.

About BFC/A

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University was established in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about black people. The BFC/A's primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions. View all posts by BFC/A

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